In this section you will find information about current thematic projects.
In addition to studio space, technical facilities and tutorial support for Self-Directed Research and Practice work, the Master of Fine Art curriculum includes an annually changing programme of thematic seminars and projects, which function as a framework for joint exploration of issues that are relevant to contemporary visual art and theory, culture and society.
THEMATIC SEMINARS AND PROJECTS 2018-2019
The Poetic Forging of Constitutive Politics, thematic seminar led by Jan Verwoert, 6 credits, October-June
In recent political philosophy attention has been directed to the energies from which politics originate, before they become institutionalised. It is precisely in this realm of constitutive political energies that voices are born which articulate different potentials of social life (the potential for social life to be different) in fundamental ways. Such voices have been post-Marxist, Feminist, Post-Colonial and Environmentalist. Emerging from specific historical struggles, they do give a strong role to poetry as the power to change the very grammar of how we experience life together.
In the face of the current global political backlash, the seminar will seek to refresh the energies of thinking politics differently by going to the source and closely study the texts of several highly generative thinkers and poets proposing new notions of the forging of social life and the articulation of common concerns. Among them Paolo Virno, Silvia Federici, Fred Moton, Audre Lorde, Édouard Glissant, Donna Haraway and Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. The seminar will engage their thoughts and poetic styles to craft its own form of thinking and writing together.
burdens of representation vs. burdens of affect (1989:2019), thematic project led by Nina Wakeford, 6 credits, January-June
How do we speak/make for ourselves, and how do we speak/make for others? This thematic project will address how modes of enunciation (on behalf of ourselves, of our communities, of others) become part of the making and exhibiting of artworks. The project is based on this provocation: whereas in the late 1980s many artists had to tackle the ‘burdens of representation’ we must orientate ourselves now around the ‘burdens of affect’. Related to this provocation are the following questions: Have we moved from collective politics to a more self-absorbed ‘politics of true feeling’? Or is it the other way around- does the creation of affect worlds make collective fantasy possible? We will take 1989 and 2019 as our temporal anchors to explore this provocation through readings, exhibition visits and the making of new collective/individual work.
In 1989 the first retrospective exhibition of British African, Caribbean and Asian modernism was staged at the Hayward Gallery in London. It was a controversial exhibition, not least because, as art historian Kobena Mercer has argued, the included artists were given the impossible role of speaking as ‘representatives’ of the communities from which they came. This ‘burden of representation’ influenced the form and aesthetic choices of some of the work. One filmmaker commented:
“There was this sense of urgency to say it all, or at least to signal as much as we
could in one film. Sometimes we can’t afford to hold anything back for another
time, another conversation or another film. That is the reality of our experience
— sometimes we only get the one chance to make ourselves heard”
(Martina Attille/Sankofa film collective, 1986).
Mercer explained this pressure as the ‘intolerable imperative to try and say everything there is to be said in one mouthful’ (1990). This is where we will begin our project, with a discussion of Mercer’s commentary on the 1989 Hayward exhibition and the way it has been represented and revisited. We will pay particular attention to the ways in which the ‘burden of representation’ might impact the way artwork are conceived, made and offered for public scrutiny, then and now. We will also read Linda Alcoff’s treatise on 1980s feminist politics of representation: ‘On Speaking For Others’ (1991).
Fast forward. Does a different burden now haunt contemporary art making, the burden of affect? The theorist Lauren Berlant has argued that the current forms and speeds of mediated events (e.g. the death of Osama bin Laden) ‘magnetize affect’ and ‘orchestrate emotion’ while not addressing what is systemic about power. Yet she insists that some of the most powerful cultural interventions (art, filmmaking, events) involve the creation of ‘affect worlds’. We will explore this claim through reading her thoughts on intuition and ‘thinking while feeling’. Berlant’s work insists on forces which may be seen as embarrassing in critical art marking, such as sentimentality. Berlant says:
I am not afraid of sentimentality – [it] is a main historical artery for making affect worlds, worlds organized by the unsaids whose open secret pulsations allow tender gesture, glances, and what all else goes without saying to suffuse and destabilize the ordinary, to make new social arrangements, even when it’s not being really revolutionary.
(Lauren Berlant, 2012)
Just as we studied the impact of the ‘burden of representation’ on the aesthetic vocabulary of artistic work, we will investigate the power of this ‘burden of affect’ on artistic processes and outputs today. For example, the current VanAbbemuseum exhibition ‘The Way Beyond Art’ (July 2018-Jan 2021) describes as work curated into ‘atmosphere rooms for the present’. We will discuss how art works (including our own) might enunciate a social-affective imaginary, and/or stage an impasse expressed as individual political depression. We will also explore the methodologies of affect which have been proposed in relation to contemporary work, including the ‘temporal drag’ of artists such as Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz (films, performance), and Allyson Mitchell (films, installation, sculpture).